Watching a few young pretentious writers for 90 minutes should be as unpleasant as it sounds. For the first half of Kill Your Darlings these young rebels, including Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), ramble on and on about shaking up the system and starting a revolution. Imagine being stuck in a room with these young men and trying not to strangle somebody.
Now try to calm your rage because Kill Your Darlings is far from a naval gazing experience. Part thriller, part romance, part coming-of-age tale, and part murder mystery, it’s a wild blend of many ideas and genres. At the center of it all is Radcliffe, playing the young, howling poet.
I got to sit down with the actor who explained, amongst other things, the difficult choices that come with a stack of scripts and how he transformed into a young Allen Ginsberg (pretentiousness in tact).
After Harry Potter there were certain expectations over what you should do next. You’ve made interesting choices since then because they’re unexpected, but do you have to take into account what’s expected or is still about what feels right?
Thank you. It’s just about what feels right. There’s certain things I know I want to do for myself. I’m about to start Frankenstein, and there I did have a desire to do a studio movie again. It’s been a while since I’ve made one and I think it’s important to… you can’t just do indies and you can’t just do big movies. I think it’s important to have a mix, but I also think that doesn’t mean there needs to be a drop off in quality. You can always look for inventive material, whether it’s with a studio film or an indie. I tend not to listen too much to what people think I should do. I’ve trusted my instincts so far and it’s got me here, and I’m pleased with where it’s got me [Laughs].
[Laughs] Right. Maybe after a huge franchise most actors wouldn’t do a film like Horns.
Yeah. In part, it is literally because of my taste in scripts. My taste is slightly weird or unexpected. I like material some people might call challenging…not that it isn’t challenging, but I think some people think just because I played Harry Potter that audiences will freak out if they see me playing somebody who’s evil or morally bankrupt. On the whole, people don’t freakout. They seem fine seeing me in other stuff.
For Kill Your Darlings, you said it was a case of never underestimating a good script. How many scripts do you have to dig through to find a project this appealing ?
Oh man…well, at the time we first read it, we were reading a lot. I haven’t read any scripts over the past few weeks, because I’ve been promoting. When I’m going through a period of looking at scripts, I’ll be getting through a few a week. Sometimes they’ll be great and sometimes they’ll be bad, so you just have to be very firm as to what your taste is. Sometimes you’ll get scripts that have an amazing director attached, but you’ll go, “Yes, but if it’s not there on the page…” My dad was a literary agent before he started chaperoning me on Potter, so hopefully I’ve inherited that trait of finding good material from him.
The language in the film is quite specific. When you’re on set, was there room to play around with the dialogue?
Actually, we improvised a lot, and I think it’s because once we got into the characters and those accents, it was great help finding the period feel of the 1940s. You’re right, because they are talking in a different way, but only because of the way they speak; it was fast, eloquent, and witty. It’s great dialogue, but it also does sound like dialogue actual people could’ve said. The one phrase that came from the 1940s I had never heard before was “earjob.” Apparently it just means “idiot,” but earjob is such a weird phrase. I’m trying to make it popular again.
[Laughs] When Allen Ginsberg is mentioned, you usually think of him in his later years. When it comes to portraying a young Ginsberg, is there a wealth of material to explore?
There’s not a huge amount of footage or audio of him at that age, but there is a lot of writing and his own diaries. His diaries were the first port of call, because he writes very eloquently and he articulates what’s going on in his brain very well, so you have a clear picture of not just who he is but who he wants to be. That was my main source material. Also, you can just go off of what people say about him. The one thing I really wanted to show in the film was how much fun he was. People tend to think of poets as being quite…
Pretentious. They were that. They were definitely pretentious, but he also had a sense of humor, was silly, and not as dry as we see a lot poets as being.
Was there any small detail you read about him that became of real importance?
You know, it was an odd thing with Allen, because the voice I’d always hear is the voice after he had smoked a ton of cigarettes and done drugs; it’s a rougher sound. In terms of that, his physicality was important. It’s not massively different from mine, but I had to think about it. That was a little physical reminder that would help you slip back into character. Another little thing I found helpful was seeing myself and not recognizing myself. It seemed to me such a transformation, so that’s helpful.
Going from this to Frankenstein is a huge shift in production size. Despite that, does the work on a blockbuster and an indie still feel the same?
Absolutely. The only differences on a smaller set are very superficial, like, how long you have the crane camera for. Actually, I think if we made this movie for $10 million in eight weeks it wouldn’t be as good. There’s an urgency. The process by which you make a film is an underrated factor into how the film turns out. This film was made very fast with little money, so everybody had to be really focused and hardworking. I think it gives the film an energy.
Kill Your Darlings is now in limited release and expands this weekend.